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AROUND 180 journalists are currently in jail, a third of the world’s total, many on trumped-up terrorism charges. Five more journalists were handed jail terms totalling nine years and nine months last week as an appeal court confirmed the sentences in the Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda) case.
In May 2016 the editor-in chief campaign was initiated, where journalists and writers would become the editor of the paper for a day as an act of solidarity against the pressure and investigations against Ozgur Gundem’s staff, and to defend freedom of the press.
At least 50 of the 56 who acted as editor-in-chief of Ozgur Gundem during the campaign, which lasted for around three months, were investigated, with 16 of them appearing in court.
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) president Sebnem Korur Fincanci, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative in Turkey Erol Onderoglu and Journalist Ahmet Nesin were arrested and jailed during the campaign.
They were released after 10 days.
Ozgur Gundem columnist and novelist Asli Erdogan were held on charges of of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity.”
In late 2016 the Ozgur Gundem newspaper was closed down completely by court order under the state of emergency. Now, five of the journalists who stood in solidarity with the newspaper have been tried and a court has approved their sentence. One of them is already in jail. The other journalists will be imprisoned soon.
What follows is a farewell article written by Ayse Duzkan, one of the jailed journalists, originally written for the Yeni Yasam newspaper.
You will have heard the news that the appeal court has approved the decision on the case of the journalists, of which I am one. For standing in solidarity with the Ozgur Gundem newspaper, spending one day as the editor in chief, myself and Ragip Duran were sentenced to 18 months in prison, Huseyin Bektas and Mehmet Ali Celebi also received 18 months while Huseyin Aykol was sentenced to two years in prison.
Very soon I will surrender to prison to start my sentence. I don’t know what the conditions of writing and posting mail are in prison. So this is a farewell letter, even for a while.
Mehmet Ali Celebi is already in prison. The number of people jailed for political reasons throughout Turkey is 50,000 and according to the Disk Basın-Is (the trade union organizing journalists) around 150 of them are journalists (I say around 150, because the number is constantly changing) when I think this, I'm embarrassed to accept "get past".
In the offices of Ozgur Gundem and other pro-Kurdish newspapers hang the photographs of those who have worked there and lost their lives for this and there were enough to cover a wall. When I think about them it is hard for me to talk about it.
In recent years many journalists have been forced into exile because of the penalties against them or those they face that would take away a big part of their lives.
People know how difficult it is to be away from their relatives, from home, from their native language (especially, if you have a professional job working with language such as journalism), exposure to racism in Europe.
I love the shores of the Aegean, the sea, the streets of Istanbul, the ferries, Istiklal Street, the bars where music is good and drinks are cheap, public markets, the food native to here only, paprika, Azan that wakes people from their sleep, all the bells that merge with it during the day, alaturka songs I know the lyrics but never listen, the songs of Alevis of whose existence I was unaware till the age of 15, Greek I heard as a child, Kurdish, Armenian that I learned fairly late and Arabic I am familiar with. All this and my native language are my motherland that is so hard to leave behind and it puts me in great grief to think that she is condemned to poverty and misery and when I think of my friends in exile...
When I see that a case against (Former HDP Co-chair) Selahattin Demirtas was terminated and ECHR and (former HDP MP) Sureyya Onder was jailed in the speed of light...
When I look at the investigations against those who took part in Gezi (anti-government protests of 2013) and remember those who speak of peace, it's a shame to mention those 18 months.
But the simplest thing is that apart from being charged for showing solidarity with journalists, prison sentences reveal a lot of things. In the beginning it shows that this profession and the public’s right to receive news is under threat.
Becoming the editor-in-chief of Ozgur Gundem was for me, an act of solidarity to protect journalism. But at the same time, for me as a Turk, it meant to demand peace in this land.
In situations like this the term bravery is frequently used. For my part I am not brave. I’m just trying to be useful in the fight for equality, liberty and justice which takes different forms in every stage of history. It is not about courage in any case. I am aware that for the workers working for ten to twelve hours a day and facing the danger of starving their children, their family and themselves if they lose their jobs, what I have done is a luxury. This has been a "vigile" in all the meanings of the word; it has been our turn, we held it, we move along.
The relationship with the readers of this newspaper is very different from the rest of the media and I know that our readers who would never spare a salute whenever we see each other are on our side.I trust, they will forgive me that this article will be a little too subjective and personal for once. We are going. But we’ll be back someday. For now I ask for your comradeship, your good wishes on your prayers, whichever you would prefer.
Sarya Tunc is an exiled Kurdish journalist who writes for the Ekmek ve Gul (Bread and Roses) website and magazine
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